N.H. Football Title Games Get New Home

Concord — First-year NHIAA Executive Director Jeff Collins will have three big reasons to return to Cowell Stadium this fall.

The former University of New Hampshire nose guard and defensive tackle will be back at his alma mater on Nov. 22, overseeing the state’s first “championship day” — featuring all three football state title games at the Wildcats’ venerable field.

On the Saturday before Thanksgiving at Cowell, Division III will kick off at 11 a.m., D-II is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. and Division I will get underway underneath the lights at 6:30. Lights were installed this year at the 78-year-old stadium.

It’s a deviation from the NHIAA’s traditional title-game format, where the games were played at the home of each division’s highest remaining seed. It’s an experiment Collins is naturally thrilled about.

“I’m very excited about the partnership, and not just because I played there,” Collins said during Thursday’s media day at the association’s headquarters. “(UNH coach) Sean McDonnell works hard to recruit athletes from New Hampshire high schools to his team, so I think it’s a natural partnership.”

Collins, 44, spent the last eight years as the Portsmouth High School principal. The Exeter resident replaces Pat Corbin, who also had an eight-year tenure as the NHIAA’s executive director before retiring earlier this summer.

“Education and athletics go hand-in-hand in New Hampshire, and I’m excited to play a role in cultivating that,” he said. “As a principal and administrator, there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t fall back on some of the lessons I learned during high school athletics.”

Collins acknowledged not everyone favors a neutral-site venue for gridiron title games — the state’s football committee first visited the issue seven years ago, but tabled the discussions until recently — yet he thinks the change will benefit teams aspiring to get there. Boys basketball semifinals and finals are at held in UNH’s Lundholm Gymnasium, while the campus’ Swasey Pool plays host to the state’s swimming and diving championships.

“It gives kids a unique opportunity to play on a surface that is (home to) the next level of play,” said Collins, a Wildcat from 1988-92 who went on to coach at Salem High. “Basketball has that appeal, where the season is looked at as, ‘the road to Durham.’

“I used to be on the golf committee, and my mantra was always, ‘How can we get kids the opportunity to play on the best courses in the state?’ You want to give them an opportunity to play where they’ll probably never get to play again.”

Speaking of changes, Collins also noted a basketball rules change as imposed by the National Federation of State High School Athletics, from where the NHIAA adopts its regulations. The rule cracks down on hand contact by defenders against any ballhandler, stating that the following shall constitute a foul:

∎ Placing two hands on the player;

∎ Placing an extended arm bar on the player;

∎ Placing and keeping a hand on the player; and

∎ Contacting the player more than once with the same hand or alternating hands.

“It says that it’s a foul when committed against a ball handler or dribbler,” Collins noted. “I interpret that to mean on either end of the floor.”

A presentation was given on the NHIAA’s Life of an Athlete program, which promotes codes of conduct, drug and alcohol prevention and healthy lifestyle choices to Granite State student-athletes. Program director Donna Arias showed a video put together by several southern New Hampshire schools, showing student-athletes pledging to stand up to bullying, commit to a substance-free lifestyle and other initiatives.

Last week, more than 120 coaches and administrators — including some from Lebanon High and Hanover High — met at Hanover to learn about the program. The schools’ athletic departments received T-shirts with logos of their school mascots and the phrases, “Life of a Raider” and “Life of a Marauder,” respectively.

Hanover Athletic Director Mike Jackson said the presentation went well, though he and Lebanon AD Zac Stevenson are still mulling over how to implement the program’s messages. “We hope to find some student leaders and eventually get other Upper Valley schools involved as well,” Jackson said in a phone interview. “We’re still figuring out the next steps.”

NHIAA finance director Diane Jobin gave an update on the association’s website, nhiaa.org, saying this year it will feature more video content. The organization is also expanding its social media reach to include title game scores on Twitter.

Media day concluded with a presentation from National Federation of State High School Athletics representative Don Boyle, who introduced the organization’s 1-year-old video streaming broadcast network. During its pilot season last school year, the network broadcast nearly 20,000 live high school games on its website, nfhsnetwork.com, including 103 New Hampshire contests.

While staffing its own talent for some marquee games, the network also encourages schools to produce their own broadcasts by providing software and other tools.

In some cases, the NFHS network partners with local television and radio entities for broadcasts.

“It’s really a pretty neat thing,” Boyle, whose organization has linked up with Vermont-based high school sports streaming company Northeast Sports Network for some broadcasts, said. “There are a lot of things people can do with our site: highlight packages, stats — you name it.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.